Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Movie Review: Kill the Irishman

Kill the Irishman **
Directed by: Jonathan Hensleigh
Written by: Jonathan Hensleigh and Jeremy Walters based on the book by Rick Porrello.
Starring: Ray Stevenson (Danny Greene), Vincent D'Onofrio (John Nardi), Val Kilmer (Joe Manditski), Christopher Walken (Shondor Birns), Linda Cardellini (Joan Madigan), Tony Darrow (Mikey Mendarolo), Robert Davi (Ray Ferritto), Fionnula Flanagan (Grace O'Keefe), Bob Gunton (Jerry Merke), Jason Butler Harner (Art Sneperger), Vinnie Jones (Keith Ritson), Tony Lo Bianco (Jack Licavoli), Laura Ramsey (Ellie O'Hara), Steve Schirripa (Mike Frato), Paul Sorvino (Tony Salerno), Mike Starr (Leo 'Lips' Moceri), Marcus Thomas (William 'Billy' McComber), Vinny Vella (Frank Brancato).
There are certain movies that serve as a standard bearer for a genre – a high water mark that filmmakers always try to hit, but seem to always come up short. To me, I think Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas is that type of film for the gangster genre. In the 21 years since the film was released, so many filmmakers have tried so hard to copy GoodFellas’ success, and so few have gotten even close to capturing the magic that Scorsese did in one of his very best films. The 21 years has been littered with a bunch of pale imitations of Scorsese’s film. To that list, you can add Jonathan Hensleigh’s Kill the Irishman, which wants so desperately to be GoodFellas, and comes up so very, very short.

The opens in Cleveland in the 1970s. Danny Greene (Ray Stevenson) is a lowly dock worker, but he’s smarter than the rest of his co-workers, even if he did drop out of high school. He reads constantly, and is intelligent beyond his position. He doesn’t like the way his union is being run, so after some strong arm tactics, he runs for, and wins, the Presidency of that Union. But in Cleveland in the 1970s, the mob runs everything – and Greene is only too happy to play along. It makes him a lot of money, and it also makes the union workers a lot of money. It’s a win win, until the newspaper runs an expose on his practices, and he is arrested. But he cuts a deal – he’ll stay in contact with the Feds, and they’ll let him back on the streets. He can no longer be a union man, but he is big, he is tough and he is smart – and the mob always needs guys like that. That is until they get too big and too smart for their own good, and then they become a threat.

Ray Stevenson is an interesting actor – one who I know realize I’ve seen several times before, most notably in the lead role of The Punisher: War Zone, but one I have to admit never really left an impression on me before this movie. Stevenson is charming, handsome in a rough way, and a man who you can believe as an Irish gangster. The problem is that he is let down by the screenplay, which doesn’t give him enough to work with. I’m not sure how Greene progressed from the smart dock worker into the gangster he became – I know the events in his life, but not why he seems to have changed. Unlike GoodFellas, where Henry Hill became a real person through his relationship with his wife, Kill the Irishman pays little more than lip service to the role of Greene’s wife (Linda Cardinelli), who is in and out of the movie so quickly she barely registers. The rest of the gangsters in the movie also barely register – not even Christopher Walken, looking crazy as usual, but with no role to play. Val Kilmer for some reason acts as the narrator, although in his role as a cop, he is outside the action from beginning to end. The one exception is Vincent D’Onofrio as John Nardi. I think D’Onofrio is the type of actor who gets bored easily, which is why he seems to constantly trying weird, interesting things in even throwaway roles. Here, he uses a strange, nasally, slightly effeminate voice to play Nardi, and also strikes an interesting walk. I have no idea why D’Onofrio decided to play Nardi this way, but one thing is for sure – when he was on screen, I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.

Kill the Irishman is not a horrible movie by any means – it holds your attention at least. But it really isn’t a very good movie either. It strikes me as the type of film you come across late at night on cable, and sit and watch until you fall asleep, and have completely forgotten about when you wake up.

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